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Redesign Spotify playlist experience as a self-taught designer

Redesign Spotify playlist experience as a self-taught designer

This is the first design project I worked on as a self-taught designer.

Redesign an app I love in a realistic and creative way.

I picked Spotify because I have been its heavy user for 2 years spending at least 4 hours every day on the app. Its UX/UI has always fascinated me. And so I thought if the project is about Spotify, I might be in a better position to empathize with users when I’m also one of them.

· Finish a design project from start to finish

· Learn how to conduct and analyze user research

· Learn and apply Design thinking throughout the project

· Learn to use Adobe XD for wireframes and prototypes

· Form my own design principles

Disclaimer: This is a personal project. I do not work for Spotify. All views in this post are my own and not reflective of Spotify.

Business side — Playlist as a gateway

Spotify is the most popular global music streaming service with more than 230 million users. The platform is a two-sided marketplace where artists and music fans meet. And these two have a symbiotic relationship in the sense that when music fans get more crowded on Spotify, more artists will join the platform and vice versa. Therefore, to Spotify, a way to reinforce this relationship is a key to foster its growth. And that key is something we call PLAYLIST.

Playlist is the gateway for artists to keep reaching a bigger audience and the fastest way for users to discover new music. Currently, Spotify has three types of playlists:

· Personalized/ Algorithmic playlist: Those that are “Made for You” namely Discover Weekly, Release Radar,…

· Editorial playlist: Those curated by Spotify for every mood/ moment/ activity

· Listener playlist: Those that users create

1. User interview

I conducted interviews with 6 Spotify premium users to find out how playlists had served them. The interview is divided into 3 parts:

· User Demographics: Who is the user?

· Perception of Spotify: How is their perception of Spotify?

· Spotify features: How they use Spotify?

You can access the user interview questionnaire here.

Note: As I planned to do the whole app redesign, the questions also cover other features of Spotify.

2. Personas

After interview, I built a persona for each user. The purpose of these personas are to summarize, highlight the key points and support me in generating Point-of-view statements later in the Define stage. Below are previews of them.

1. Point of view

Formula: [USER] needs to [USER’S NEED] because [SURPRISING INSIGHT]

The purpose of POV is to reframe the challenge into an actionable problem statement that can kick start generative ideation.

Therefore, based on user personas, I tried to grab the key elements in user goals and frustrations, and generalize them enough to remove their individuality but keep relevancy. The key is to make sure POVs are free of what may unnecessarily constrain the solution space.

POV 1: Sophie is an emotional, 23-year-old college student who loves music and is pretty picky on what she listens, currently living far from the city center. She needs to play good music hand-free in a way that is engaging and uninterrupted, while making her feel emotionally fulfilled/related in her alone long commute.

POV 2: Minh-Anh is a 24-year-old busy business consultant who has a diverse taste in music.

■ He needs to effortlessly find songs resonating with him because the maze of Spotify playlists makes him feel discouraged to go searching.

2. How might we

In order to dig deep into the smaller bits of POV, I used HMW questions and open up the solution space, ready for ideation. Around 30 HMW questions were generated from the four POVs, I then narrowed down to top 4 most relevant:

■ How might we play songs that are emotionally fulfilled to users?

■ How might we free users from the questions of what songs I should listen?

■ How might we give users an engaging and uninterrupted listening experience?

■ How might we help users find songs resonating with her effortlessly without searching through a maze of playlists?

All set up. Let’s head to the fun part: Ideation phase

1. Crazy 8’s

For rapid brainstorming, I used Crazy 8’s method to generate 8 ideas in 8 minutes. To make the most out of this method, I think a fresh mind is needed so I recommend changing the current environment like going out for some fresh air before starting.

I thought I would choose one best solution from these eight but it turned out each idea can complement and make the solution better. After synthesizing the ideas, the solution started to show itself:

Curated session — instead of just a playlist

The difference:

User can choose the key characteristics of the session

■ Genre/mood/activity

■ Length

■ Song source: From Liked songs/ From Spotify recommendations

Session can be followed to save to Your Library or saved as a new playlist

2. Storyboard

In order to picture the solution more clearly, I used storyboard to imagine the steps users will take to generate a session.


3. User flow

Based on the key steps I could determine from Storyboard exercise; the user flow was created to map out the design work needed.

Create session user flow

Based on the user flow, I created hi-fidelity wireframes before making them a working prototype.

A hybrid of user-created and personalized playlists.

The decision-making process involved around the making of the session is now shared with both Spotify and the users themselves. Now users can decide on the length of the session and the key elements that make it.

A share of decision making

Users no longer have to face with the problem of “Nothing new” or “I don’t know what that song is”, as they get to decide where the songs that make the session come from. The idea is to give users control but just enough to ensure the quality of their experience is more than what they can create themselves.

Hand free

As the problem on predictability is mitigated, the chances that users need to skip songs can be limited and they can be free to do their job while listening to music hand-free. Not to say they can set up the length of the session so it’s not more or less than what they need.

Easy to use

Session works in quite a similar way to playlists so it doesn’t take much time before users can get used to it.

  • Deep dive into research on what users have in mind when looking for or creating a playlist.
  • Usability test of the designs with users.
  • Invest more on the UI part of the project.

The process of doing this project has been rewarding and self-fulfilling. I enjoy studying how and why users enjoy or just simply hate from the whole features to small details on the app. The fact that UX is a combination of behavioral psychology, design and computer science has made it fascinating to learn and to do.

However, I can’t deny to self-teach myself UXD has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In the first 2 months, I was drowning in a vast ocean of knowledge where it was really hard to just answer for myself what now, what next, what was right and what really couldn’t be applied. There was a time when I was so frustrated, every step forward felt just like pushing against the wall. It sounds like I were being over dramatic, that’s exactly how I felt.

I know there are people out there who’s also not at good position to join a UX design bootcamp. So here is my 5-cent for you. Following this, you will probably save much more time that I could have:

  • FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS one ONE thing at a time. And the very first should always be the methodology (70% of your time)
  • Any other things not the method should account for 30% only.
  • If you spend more time reading than actually doing the project, you’re not learning. And it’s very likely you will get stuck because there’s no end to what you can read about UX.
  • Trust the process. You’re learning something new, so don’t expect it to be fast. Accepting that fact and you may be free from lots of unnecessary mental pressure.
  • Take part in some short courses on UX/UI (both online and offline). Personally I haven’t seen any online courses that are affordable and helpful. So I took a local offline introduction course which helped me to clarify some of my questions, get a better view on the current job market and network with some people in the industry.

You may want to check out Instagram redesign by Kim-Thuy Tu, another self-taught designer. I was really impressed with the scale and quality of her project, more than that is the fact she did in within 2 months. What she has done was quite an inspiration, not just about what she accomplished but also her hard work and stamina. Those two things are really important if you want to get somewhere far in this journey.

Thank you for reading!

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